WKU splits pair of matches over weekend

Sophomore midfielder Sarah Gotham (10) and Louisiana State senior defender Megan Lee (13) go up to head a ball during the Lady Toppers’ 1-0 loss to the Tigers Thursday, Sept. 8 at WKU Soccer Complex. Matt Lunsford/HERALD

Tyler Mansfield

The WKU women’s soccer team played two road matches this weekend and returned home with just one victory.

The Lady Toppers (8-4-0 overall, 3-1-0 Conference USA) recorded its first ever win against Rice University Friday with a 1-0 showing before suffering a 2-1 setback at the University of North Texas Sunday afternoon in its first conference loss of the season.

Friday, against the Owls, senior forward Iris Dunn was able to find the back of the net in the 15th minute to score the eventual match-winning goal to help push WKU over the club from Houston.

The win sat the Lady Tops atop the C-USA standings as it was also their fifth-straight shutout, a streak that then was at 553 minutes after the squad had not allowed a goal since Sept. 8 against Louisiana State University.

Rice outshot WKU, 18-7 and had a 9-2 advantage in shots on goal, but the Lady Tops held the Owls from being able to get on the scoreboard thanks to a dominant showing by junior goalkeeper Allison Leone.

The Kennesaw, Georgia, native played the full 90 minutes and saved nine shots from the opponent, just one shy of her career high set at the University of Memphis Aug. 21.

The strong effort also helped mark Leone’s 18th shutout of her career as it guided WKU to its first 3-0 mark in league action since the 2013 campaign.

Rice’s offense got going early in the match, as it forced Leone into action for a pair of saves in the 13th minute.

Junior defender Aliza Wolfe’s attempt was pushed out by Leone and freshman midfielder Lianne Manaquil’s shot off the ensuing corner was retrieved by the goalkeeper to maintain the early draw.

Dunn’s goal at the 14:19 mark of the opening half broke the deadlock. The senior forced a turnover in the midfield before bringing the ball up the right side herself.

After playing into the box, the Tavernier, Florida, native sent a high-arcing shot over freshman goalkeeper Samantha Colley and into the side netting to record her third goal of the year and give the Lady Tops a 1-0 lead.

At the 38-minute mark, the Owls came close to tying the contest on senior defender Jenny Fichera’s try from the top of the box.

Fichera struck the underside of the crossbar and the ball bounced off the ground before being cleared by WKU’s defense, sending the two sides in the locker rooms with the Lady Tops holding the one goal advantage.

Early into the second half, Leone tallied four saves in an eight-minute span to keep Rice from being able to score.

Sophomore forward Marissa Topolski had a pair of chances saved at the 56-minute mark while sophomore forward Annie Walker was denied twice in five minutes as WKU kept its lead.

The Lady Tops’ lead was nearly doubled in the next 20 minutes as junior forward Bria Mosley and freshman forward Chandler Backes each had chances.

Mosley found herself in space after a pass into the left side of the box but sent a strike just over the bar at the 63-minute mark.

Backes, on the other hand, struck the post and nearly scored her 10th goal of the season at the 79:10 mark, but WKU still had enough to get the victory.

Saturday, Mosley was able to find the back of the net at the 82-minute mark for her fourth goal of the year, but the Lady Tops could not overcome a two-goal deficit against the preseason C-USA favorite Mean Green, as they fell short to close out the road swing.

WKU kept pace with North Texas throughout the match, as it fired just one less shot (13-12) than the Mean Green.

Redshirt sophomore midfielder Sarah Gorham led the Lady Tops with three shots, including one on goal, while Mosley, senior midfielder Haley Baldridge and junior midfielder Hannah Chua also recorded shots on goal.

WKU found itself trailing early as UNT jumped in front just 19 seconds into the match on a goal from fifth-year senior Hailey Sutton. The goal was the first given up by the Lady Topper defense in 553 minutes, a mark that was the third-longest active shutout streak in the nation.

At the 39-minute mark, Gorham nearly netted one for WKU to tie things up after finding space along the right side of the box. Gorham fired from in close, but Miranda Schoening was there for the save as the Lady Tops faced a one-goal deficit at intermission.

WKU almost tied the game again on Chua’s header attempt in the 63rd minute, but Schoening corralled the shot to maintain the 1-0 lead.

However, about six minutes following Chua’s try, North Texas doubled its advantage on junior defender Cat Sebazco’s goal at the 69:57 mark.

Senior midfielder Caitlin Hesse came close to cutting into the lead, striking the crossbar at the 74-minute mark, but Mosley’s strike from the top of the box at the 81:52 mark pulled a goal back for the Lady Tops.

Baldridge got a shot at the 87-minute mark from the right side, but she couldn’t find the back of the net, as the Mean Green held off WKU’s late rally.

The Lady Tops will return to action at home against Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham this weekend.

Reporter Tyler Mansfield can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMansfield.